Smart Meters for everyone
// Sasha Lakic

It’s official: we are all getting smart meters, whether we like it or not. By December 2012, all of BC’s 1.8 million households will be equipped with one of BC Hydro's Smart Meters, despite some dissenting voices after the first 100,000 were rolled out.

With the meters, BC Hydro can measure a household’s consumption data once every hour, and send the information in four to six hour intervals to a larger data collector. That data is in turn sent to the main BC Hydro server for charge calculation and general examination of energy consumption. Charges can be exactly measured, and customers will always have a reference check in case numbers don't add up. Further integration of the system will include a display where a client can read off consumption and rates in real time, and down the road, it only takes a small mental leap to think of iPhone/Blackberry/Android applications that would let you track consumption when you are not at home.

BC Hydro argues that the reason for the rollout of the Smart Meter Program is the need to drastically upgrade BC’s power grid. The company’s revenue application for 2011 states that “like other utilities around the world, BC Hydro is planning to automate, modernize, and upgrade its electricity grid and metering systems. This will improve reliability, provide additional service
options for customers and help to facilitate energy conservation and efficiency.”

So, the ancient meters now attached to everyone’s pipes are being, or will be, replaced with new digital, more accurate meters that show the consumer exactly how much he or she is consuming at any given time. It is meant to transfer the responsibility of energy conservation to the consumer and cause him or her to be mindful about wastefulness in the face of global energy issues.


As a response, many have accused the program of installing these meters to use them as a major weapon for a crackdown on energy theft in relation to marijuana grow-ops.

According to BC Hydro’s website, energy theft costs the firm around $100 million a year. Having individualized meters has the potential to directly track the enormous energy use and pinpoint specific operations. In accordance with the Freedom of Information and Privacy Act, this information will be shared with the RCMP who will then be able to effectively shut down the operation in question, hopefully leading to a decrease in crime further down the road.

Although BC Hydro's initiative seems harmless, maybe it is the fact that surveillance of household consumption will be easier, and there is potential for insidious measuring and tracking of consumer behaviour that has public all riled up. Theoretically, the Freedom of Information and Privacy Act should defuse that paranoia, but there really is not a way of knowing for sure what the RCMP will do once they have attained the information on energy related operations. Logic would suggest that a household can breeze through the system under the radar if it consumes the “normal” amount of kWh’s: high usage in the mornings and early evenings, low usage in the 9-5 hours, and night time off-hours. The message to take away is that if usage is always in the suspicious levels a customer should expect a call by the Mounties.


Some BC municipalities such as Colwood, Victoria, and Invermere have weighed in their opinions and concerns on the issue, claiming that the meters’ radio waves pose a potential health risk due to cancer-causing radiation. It turns out that the frequency, as illustrated by the meter manufacturer Itron, falls into laughable ranges at about 0.005 microwatts per square centimetre. Comparably, a cell phone lights up a brain at anywhere from 30 to 10,000 microwatts per square centimetre. An often quoted comparison is that 20 years of the meters’ communication gives off the same radiation levels as a 30 minute cell phone call.


An issue that is not much talked about is the total cost of BC’s power grid refurbishment. The subtotal amounts to around $2 billion, $930 million of which is allotted to the Smart Meter program. This means that energy charges over the next years will increase to compensate for the investment. As of May 1, 2011, the rate for the average resident has been set at 6.67¢/kWh for the first 1350 kWh; anything above that is charged at 9.62¢/kWh. This was an eight per cent increase from the previous year. BC Hydro says that increases in the future will be less, and determinable after reviews by the British Columbia Utilities Commission.

What BC Hydro, and surely BC’s leadership, are hedging their bets on is that this new initiative will create economic growth for the province over the next decade. In a news release from Sept. 6, BC Hydro claims that “there will be two million pieces of technology on the grid that need to be managed, creating new technology-based jobs that do not exist today.”

The smart meter program will create a total of 350 jobs province wide, and contribute $30-40 million in direct wages. However, this would be a small drop in the pond that is BC’s green sector of the economy. Vancouver’s non-profit GLOBE Foundation says that the sector “could represent up to 14 per cent of the province's total gross domestic product (GDP) by 2020, creating nearly 85,000 jobs.” T

his is likely where the municipal discord is fostered. The government is spending large amounts of money on a new program, but creating jobs only marginally. In the shadow of the HST referendum, the BC Liberals and BC Hydro launched more cost drivers that people have not been thoroughly informed about. This is in addition to having to immediately return to Ottawa $1.6 billion in HST conversion costs and repaying $2.4 billion of the same intermittently. S

canning local news about smart metering yields only a small amount coverage by news outlets. If one wants to educate him or herself, BC Hydro and its affiliates are the only resources, and cross-referencing is required. Like the program itself, knowing about the nuts and bolts of the program is the populace’s task.

Following an article on the power meters published on-line by CBC, a poll questioning the reader's desires for the meters proved to have 88 per cent of voters against the implementation. Though this is a staggering figure, it is important to remember that it only represents the opinion of those who actually read and voted on the article's web page. It is, however, a statistic to keep in mind when it comes to evaluating the voices of the mainstream public. S

ince Edison invented the electric lightbulb in 1878, and consequentially patented a system for electric distribution in 1880, we have unquestionably come a long way in terms of technology. In the Western world, tools that Edison could not have possibly fathomed even in his wildest dreams, such as the Internet, smartphones, and mp3 players now facilitate our every day living without second thought, and, in some cases, without a relateable grasp on how the world was before. Undoubtedly, technology is developing at an exponential rate, and will continue to do so. It is up to us as consumers to understand this, and to effectively use the tools supplied to us.

// Sasha Lakic, Writer
// Illustrations by Stefan Tosheff

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© 2011 The Capilano Courier. phone: 604.984.4949 fax: 604.984.1787 email: editor@capilanocourier.com